My 2019 in games was weird. The year’s biggest offerings—games like Jedi: Fallen Order, Death Stranding, and Pokemon Sword and Shield—weren’t my style. My recent sobriety often pulled me away from my gaming PC, as my interests expanded to include running, rock climbing, and being in pain from getting into sports in my late 30s. But I still played and loved plenty of games this year. Here are my top 10 games of 2019.
This early access sequel to 2013 indie game Risk of Rain takes a lot of what worked for its predecessor and recasts it in 3D. This perspective shift makes its alien landscapes even more weird, and turns cutely-designed pixel monsters into frightening behemoths. I’m excited to see how it keeps evolving in 2020.
I first played Children of Morta as a demo, where I was intrigued by its lush world and moody narration. The final version’s combat can get a little repetitive, but it’s still a delight to slash through its dungeons and explore the relationships between its family members. Plus, I finally saved that puppy.
I had a hard time sticking with Control. My interest went in bursts: playing for hours, then feeling too stressed out by its creepy vibe to jump back in. I still haven’t finished it, but it’s one of the few straightforward narrative games that drew me in this year. I’ll work up the courage to finish exploring its scary hallways one day.
Katana Zero’s Hotline Miami-esque gore isn’t usually my speed, but I loved how it tones down that game’s twitch reflexes into something more akin to a strategy game. Finding just the right moves and moments to zip artfully through a level, slaughtering everyone in my way, was a sick delight.
I didn’t understand Wilmot’s Warehouse’s appeal when I first saw everyone praising it on Twitter, but this puzzle game about moving blocks around hides a deceptively personal core. The game itself isn’t that hard—there are few space constraints, and you have plenty of time to fulfill your deliveries—so the real puzzle is trying to decipher whatever the hell you were thinking 20 minutes ago.
I’m terrible at games that give me time constraints, so I’m still working my way through some of Lonely Mountains’ timed challenges. My favorite thing to do in the game is just bike around, enjoying its blocky, beautiful world and the zinging of my bike wheels. It’s a game that scratches my itch for the outdoors, even if I often look away when I send my character on a particularly gruesome fall.
I love survival games. I’ve been following Overland forever, expecting resource management and weird post-apocalyptic Americana. The final release is brutally unforgiving, but there’s just enough wiggle room in each doomed scenario to send me back for another try the moment my last survivor bites the dust. I don’t think I can say I’m good at Overland, or that I don’t sometimes wish it were less cruel, but I can’t resist a game so full of dogs.
ApeLegs (you cannot stop me) was a battle royale that both my gaming friends and I enjoyed on its own. This meant we could play games together with ease, instead of having to beg each other to give PUBG or Fortnite another chance. I love zipping and sliding around its world, even if it makes me forget other games have fall damage.
OK, so Fortnite isn’t officially out, or even new this year, but 2019 was the year I fully assumed the Fortnite beat and gave myself over to its all-consuming churn. My year in Fortnite was playing the game itself: sneaking around the map alone, joining up with random players, or letting down my end of Team Rumble while I rushed around completing challenges (sorry). But it was also attending a baffling and joyous in-game concert, roaming around the unexpectedly lovely World Cup, and sipping coffee in my dark apartment at 4am while watching the end of the black hole. Fortnite made me look cool to my nephew’s friends and smart to my sister’s mom’s group, as I decoded its mystery to adults and geeked out over its big moments with their kids. I don’t know if Fortnite will expand in 2020 until it swallows us all, but it was definitely a hallmark of my year.
I randomly downloaded this game when I saw a code floating around in my email. Its silly title and simplistic graphics give way to a wonderfully clever puzzle game, with charm that keeps its coding logic from feeling too cold or cerebral. I convinced my sister to buy it for my oldest nephew, the star of his kids’ game coding class. They got to play it together, and then we all got to talk about it. My sister is still suspicious of letting her kids play video games (sometimes with good reason), and I was excited not only to share a game with them, but to give them a taste of some of the games that are out there beyond Minecraft and Roblox. If my nephew is reading this: I totally don’t resent you for beating the game faster than me. That sounded convincing, right?
Hitman 2 and The Long Dark have made my lists in the past, but they were still mainstays of my 2019, with new maps and new episodes that will certainly keep them on my hard drive forever. Set yourself a New Year’s goal to play The Long Dark already, reader. Don’t make me keep bugging you.